Western Animation / Censored Eleven

In the history of media, there are works that may not seem overtly controversial at the time of their creation, but later come to be regarded as such as time passes and perceptions of morals, beliefs, and societial issues change. Animation is no different, and there is no better example of this within the medium than the Censored Eleven.

The "Censored Eleven" are a collection of eleven different Looney Tunes animated shorts—ten of which were released under the Merrie Melodies label—created between the years of 1931 and 1944. The full list is as follows:

The "Censored Eleven" are called so because in 1968, Associated Artists Productions rightsowner United Artists deemed all eleven of the short films — which contained numerous depictions of black people that are considered offensive — to be too offensive for contemporary audiences (especially in light of the Civil Rights Movement) and pulled them all from distribution. Unlike other shorts released at the time that were later edited to remove any racially-themed jokes (such as those found in various Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes shorts), the racial themes in the Censored Eleven are so pervasive and thoroughly central to the plot of each of the shorts that editing them out would essentially render the shorts into nothingness. Since 1968, the owners of the rights to these shorts — including the current rightsholders, Time Warner — have refused to show any one of them on television or (with a single exception) in theaters.

At the turn of the century, several animation historians began to publicize the existence of the Eleven, which led to an article about the shorts in the New York Times which discussed how they could all be found on YouTube (or bootleg home video releases). This heightened public awareness led to a special theatrical airing of remastered editions of eight of the eleven shorts (Jungle Jitters, Rabbit Stew, and Angel Puss being the three left out) at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2010. In October 2010, Warner Bros. announced that the first legitimate home video release of the entire Censored Eleven would happen in 2011. While the release was initially pegged to be part of the Warner Archives "DVD-on-demand" program, it was later confirmed that the release would be a traditional retail release; along with the promise that the release will be "high class", the collection will also include several other rare cartoons from the time period of the Eleven and a number of bonus features. This release, however, has not yet seen the light of day.

Several other racially-themed shorts — including Confederate Honey, Fresh Hare, Which Is Witch, and MGM's Uncle Tom's Cabana and Half-Pint Pygmy — and numerous World War II-era cartoons featuring unflattering depictions of the Japanese are often associated with the Censored Eleven due to their racist content and how most of them haven't been seen on television because of it, though Fresh Hare has been seen on TV (albeit with the ending cut) and Which Is Witch was shown on TV up until the 1990s (Nickelodeon was the last channel to air it, again with a scene involving black savage stereotypes cut. It also aired on CBS Saturday morning TV with a scene of Bugs trapped in the pressure cooker cut). These racially-themed cartoons aren't associated with The Censored Eleven and are in a class by itself (Which Is Witch is part of a group of 12 Bugs Bunny cartoons — including the Censored Eleven's All This And Rabbit's Stew — that have been pulled by Cartoon Network due to the cartoons featuring Bugs facing off against a villain who happens to be an unacceptable racial target).

Tropes associated with the Censored Eleven (in general) include:

  • Blackface: Many jokes poke fun at black people, depicting them with enormous frog like lips, lazy or dimwitted behaviour, and jive talk. Scenes of them eating water melons, stealing chickens, being scared of ghosts, obsessed with throwing dice and more are also rampant. Expect some imagery set in the days of slavery to turn up or jokes where their skin color turns out to be just black paint. Though a lot if it thrives on stereotypes that were typical of the time, it must be said that this imagery was seen in many live-action films of that time period, including works with actual Afro-American actors and musicians like Louis Armstrong, Stepin Fetchit, Hattie McDaniel, Josephine Baker and others. So, in some cases, these jokes were meant as innocent parodies that modern audiences, unaware of the stuff it referenced, will find offensive.
  • Public Domain Animation: Several of the shorts on the list are in the Public Domain.